Hinds youth judge wants input on federal decree

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Four years after the settlement of a case over conditions at a central Mississippi youth-detention center, a youth court judge at the center of the controversy wants to intervene.

In March 2012, Disability Rights Mississippi and the Mississippi Southern Poverty Law Center settled with Hinds County on behalf of clients at the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center in Jackson.

According to the agreement, Hinds County is required to improve 70 areas of deficiency, including safety and cleanliness, mental-health services and education.

In April 2014, after a federal judge held the county in contempt, the order was extended when attorneys for the youths argued that the county had not compiled with the original settlement.

However,  Judge William Skinner, who runs the Hinds County Youth Court, now argues that the consent decree violates state law and impairs his ability to protect the interests of children at Henley-Young.

“Because the parties amended the Consent Decree, there is now a direct conflict between the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center and the Hinds County Youth Court,” states a complaint filed April 15 by youth court attorney Kelly G. Williams. The filing adds that under the current consent decree “the Youth Court’s interest is not adequately represented by the existing parties.”

Specifically, Skinner argues that Hinds County officials lack the legal authority to release youth from the detention center without his permission.

In 2014, to help comply with the consent decree, the county implemented a new policy that the facility would house no more than 32 children at a time and the maximum confinement would be 21 days.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys argued through their response that Skinner’s motion is untimely and that the judge is attempting to assert legal rights that he does not possess. Neither Skinner nor Hinds County Youth Court are named as parties to the consent decree.

“Until now, Judge Skinner never sought to become directly involved as a party in this matter,” said Joi Owens, managing attorney for Disability Rights Mississippi.

“We all agree that (Henley-Young) is better equipped to provide services the children need if the facility has an appropriate staff/resident ratio and youth are not placed there on a long term basis. We still have a long way to go, but the parties are headed in the right direction, and are on the same page.  We are trying to provide better services for the youth.”

Calls to Williams and attorneys for the Hinds County Board of Supervisors seeking comment for this story were not returned Friday afternoon.